Set during the American Civil War, THE BEGUILED takes place entirely at a large Southern home to a girls boarding school. When one of the girls is out picking mushrooms, she wanders across a wounded Yankee soldier, Corporal McBurney (Colin Farrell) with a mangled knee. Miss Martha (Nicole Kidman), the teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) and the five students (led by Elle Fanning) decide the Christian thing to do is to help the enemy soldier before turning him in to their own Confederate army. The film attempts to explore the girls struggles with attraction and curiosity about their new house guest and the subsequent jealousy and internal conflict.
I’m curious to know exactly how Thomas Cullinan’s novel, from which the film is based, chose to detail the story. Or how the 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood was different from writer/director Sophia Coppola’s current version. Regardless if they took a male perspective from the soldier’s view or like Coppola who took a female perspective from the women’s view, it’s important that this story creates drama worth telling. I’m not completely saying it’s not worth telling but Coppola’s story is a fairly direct narrative without much range of conflicting decisions. The drama that does finally unfold lands fairly flat, keeping some of the more interesting moments off screen. Without divulging the story, I think everything that happens is completely justified, as the women as a whole make the right decision, reacting every step of the way.
One might assume that the women are “The Beguiled,” defined as a deceptive enchantment, an perhaps Elle Fanning’s character as a rebellions hormonal teenager fits that mold. However, I don’t think this is necessarily the case. They are enchanting and helpful but are cautious, ready to defend themselves appropriately as if the wild animal they nursed to health might attack at a moments notice. One might argue that Colin Farrell’s character is The Beguiled but he is a rather lame at being deceptive and his allure is nothing of his own doing. He’s quite foolish when it comes down to it and one poor decision loses any faith that the audience might have built in him.
Other than the story, there are some positive aspects. The actors do a fine job. Coppola creates a rich atmosphere. The costuming and art direction are wonderfully authentic and beautiful. However, while the natural light creates an appropriate setting, the sacrifice of a dark picture is never fully paid off. The mood doesn’t earn any tension, drama, or mystery from the rather straight forward story that lacks any grey area.
It has been nearly fifteen years since Sofia Coppola wrote and directed her masterpiece LOST IN TRANSLATION. Her second best film was a few years before that with her first feature film THE VIRGIN SUICIDES. Since then, her films MARIE ANTOINETTE, SOMEWHERE and THE BLING RING, while containing some artistic merit, seem to lack a certain substance. While THE BEGUILED, has a more distinct story, it still more of the same that we’ve seen recently. It’s not terrible but it is frustrating in its mediocrity. It doesn’t separate itself as something special or necessary, unable to match a quiet intensity that similar style films have achieved before. I know Sofia Coppola is talented and has some genuine artistry inside her but I think audiences want/need more. I know I do.
Video: (MPEG-4 AVC, 1080p, 1.66:1) The film is rich with textures making for a beautiful picture. However it is also obviously dark. While the purpose of the film is to have natural light with the darkness overtaking scenes, it might be difficult and therefore frustrating for audiences to see everything on screen.
Audio: (DTS-HD Master Audio 5k) The sound is exceptional picking up all the subtle sounds though the quietness. The sounds of war in the distance, the bugs in the open land, and all the dialogue are clearly heard.
A Shift in Perspective (6:53): This is a basic, short, behind-the-scenes look at the film. A quick observation at the cast and characters and Sophia Coppola’s decision to direct the female perspective of the story.
A Southern Style (5:40): A brief look at the overall look and tone of the film, including cinematography, production design, location, and costuming.